The Gardens at Stevens

COVID-19 has swept through the Gardens at Stevens nursing home at 400 Lancaster Ave., Denver, infecting at least 50 residents and killing 18. The nursing home is seen on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

A Denver Borough nursing home that managed to keep COVID-19 infections at bay until recently has seen the virus sweep through the facility, infecting at least 50 residents and killing 18.

The Gardens at Stevens is an 82-bed for-profit home with 65 residents that reported no infections among residents as recently as Nov. 10, according to data self-reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

On Nov. 17, the home at 400 Lancaster Ave., which is owned by Priority Healthcare Group, recorded its first cases among residents, 11 in all. It also reported seven infections among staff to the state, but this is a cumulative number. Its first virus-related death occurred on Nov. 20, according to the Lancaster County coroner’s office.

By Dec. 1, the death toll had climbed to 12, county coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni told LNP | LancasterOnline on Thursday.

“I don’t know specifically what happened in this facility; I can say generally that COVID-19 infections in the county continue to increase,” Diamantoni said. “It’s hard to completely isolate people in the community from that facility.”

The coroner’s office reported the death toll was 18 on Thursday.

George Stauffer, the home’s administrator, declined to comment.

“Once it’s in there, it’s not about luck at all,” said Sam Brooks, a Philadelphia attorney and advocate with the National Consumer Voice for Long Term Living. “It’s about practices and procedures.

“Something went wrong here,” he said.

In the first three days of December, Denver logged six COVID-related deaths, bringing the total for the borough with a population of about 3,800 to 20. Its first recorded fatality was in early October.

‘Spread like wildfire’

Infection control in the nation’s nursing homes has been a protracted problem, with infections being the leading cause of mortality even before the pandemic.

A recent Kaiser Health News investigation found that regulators have cited 63% of the nation’s nursing homes for one or more infection control deficiencies since 2016.

The Gardens at Stevens is among these.

In the past three years, the Denver facility has been cited at least once for its poor infection control practices. During an April 5, 2018, interview with the Gardens at Stevens’ director of nursing, state inspectors found that the facility had failed to implement a contact isolation order for a resident for nine days.

“COVID has served as a barometer of how your facility practices infection control,” Brooks said.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C, Consumer Voice advocates for public policies that support care quality for residents in long-term care settings.

“Once (there are) cases in there, unless you’re practicing proper infection controls, you’re done,” Brooks said. “This is going to spread like wildfire.”

The Gardens at Stevens joins a growing list of facilities that have seen the pathogen tear through their homes.

Conestoga View in Lancaster Township, for example, saw the virus infect 201 of its 349 residents and kill 77. And the virus decimated Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County, leaving 340 of its 344 residents infected, killing 73.

But for all the discussion about facility outbreaks, there are also nursing homes that manage to contain the virus.

McMurray Hills Manor in Washington County, for example, reported its first case in August after implementing early interventions that included restricting visitation ahead of the federal shutdown on March 13 and constantly educating staff that their decisions outside of work affect residents.

The latest state report shows McMurray Hills has zero resident cases.

“Just because you have one case doesn’t mean it’s going to balloon to where half of the residents get it,” Brooks said.

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